Earlier this year, the City Council directed staff to develop strategies to more proactively address the growing number of stray and aggressive animals being reported in Fort Worth neighborhoods. The Code Compliance Department (Department) developed several draft ordinance changes as part of a multi-faceted plan of action. These draft concepts were introduced to the City Council in April. The Department then promoted and facilitated seven public meetings to discuss staff's proposals. Additionally, staff met with stakeholder groups in the community, including the Fort Worth Kennel Club, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States and others.
Following these meetings, staff revised its original proposals to take into account feedback from these various sources. The revised proposals were presented to the City Council on July 14, 2009. The attached ordinance reflects staff's revised proposals and includes the following ordinance revisions:
Dangerous Dogs / Aggressive Dogs / Enclosure Standards:
Currently the City Code provides no minimum pen size for dogs placed in dog runs even if the dog spends the majority of its time in the enclosure. The proposed ordinance amendment requires a minimum of 48 square feet of space for each animal that is six months old or older and that spends a substantial portion of the day in the enclosure.
The City Code broadly defines an enclosure as one preventing escape without giving further guidance on height or materials. This outcome-defined standard has allowed for makeshift enclosures cobbled together from an assortment of objects and materials that are neither attractive nor effective. The proposed ordinance amendment includes a minimum height (four foot) and specifies acceptable materials (chain link, welded wire, wrought iron, brick, block, wood stockade or other material approved by the Director). In addition, the proposed ordinance would require a greater minimum height (six foot) for the enclosure of a dog that repeatedly commits certain defined, unprovoked, aggressive acts.
The City Code allows dogs declared "dangerous" in other jurisdictions to relocate to Fort Worth with required notifications and safeguards. The proposed ordinance amendment would prohibit dogs declared " dangerous" in other jurisdictions from relocating to Fort Worth by declaring such animals to be public nuisances. In addition, the ordinance would increase from $50.00 to $500.00 the fee for registration of animals that are declared dangerous going forward. The increased fee more accurately reflects the actual associated staff costs.
The City Code has no requirement for spay/neuter until an animal is captured at-large with no identification or captured at-large more than once. The proposed ordinance requires all dogs and cats of a certain age to be spayed or neutered unless a veterinarian certifies that such a procedure would jeopardize an animal's health or the owner obtains an intact pet permit with a waiveable, one time fee per owner. Waiver of the fee is conditioned on the applicant completing a responsible pet ownership class facilitated through Animal Care and Control. Intact pet permits can be revoked if the owner does not consistently comply with animal ordinance provisions.
The City Code allows owners to re-claim unaltered pets if they agree to have the animals spayed/neutered within 30 days at the clinic of their choice. Although owners agree to submit proof of completion, the current ordinance provides little incentive for an owner to do so. The proposed ordinance would add a requirement of a deposit for owners who want to take their animals to another veterinarian for spay/neuter. The deposit would be forfeited if the owner fails to provide proof that the pet was spayed/neutered at another veterinary clinic within 30 days.
Microchips and Licensing:
Under the current City Code, the City Council adopts licensing fees once a year but no provision is included to allow such fees to vary depending on the circumstances under which a license is obtained. Many people do not license their animals until they are compelled to do so by the threat of a citation. The proposed ordinance amendment would allow for imposition of a late fee in those instances where an owner does not comply with the ordinance requirements voluntarily and in a timely manner. Staff believes the additional financial incentive for timely, voluntary compliance will increase the number of voluntary registrations, which will in turn make it easier to return lost or escaped animals and free up staff time to address more pressing animal issues. The ordinance would also allow the Code Compliance Director to periodically offer lower licensing fees in order to encourage adoptions in connection with special events. The flexibility to offer reduced fees would provide the Director with additional options for addressing situations in which the shelter population is unusually high.
- The City Code now requires that animals released from the animal care and control center be microchipped but does not otherwise require or promote microchipping of animals. In addition, all animal licenses are issued for a period of no more than one year even if the animal has received a three year rabies vaccination. In staff's experience, microchipping makes it much easier to locate an owner and annual re-licensing of animals that have been given a long-term vaccine serves no greater purpose and reduces staff resources for addressing more pressing issues. The proposed ordinance would create an incentive to get an animal microchipped by allowing a properly vaccinated, microchipped animal to be licensed for up to three years. A license would never extend beyond the period of the vaccine. Staff intends to propose a reduced per year license fee for a multi-year license when staff presents its overall fee schedule in the budget process.
Animal Welfare Considerations:
At present, the City Code does not restrict animals from riding unsecured in open vehicles such as the beds of pick-up trucks. The proposed ordinance establishes requirements for securing animals in open vehicles to prevent the animals from jumping or falling out.
The City Code currently allows for citations to be issued to owners of tethered animals. The proposed ordinance adds clearer authority to seize a tethered animal if circumstances warrant.
Fee and Fine Incentives:
With the exception of dangerous animals, animal related fees are not explicitly set by ordinance and are instead adopted annually by the City Council. The attached ordinance sets the new fees for dangerous animals and addresses some general fee-related issues, but it does not otherwise include fees. As part of staff's recommended comprehensive approach to dealing with animal issues, staff will be bringing forward specific proposed revisions to the Animal Care and Control fee schedule as part of the Fiscal Year 2010 budget process. Overall, the recommended fee revisions are intended to provide further incentives for individuals to be responsible pet owners by providing lower fees and fines on the front-end and providing higher fees and fines after owners are found to be in violation of animal ordinances. The purpose of the fee differentials will be to create additional monetary incentives for voluntary compliance.
The proposed fee amendments would include: variable reclaim fees that more accurately reflect the resources required to capture and shelter each particular animal; reduced fees for pet adoption by senior citizens; reduced fees for adoption of an older, adoptable animal; and an increased "window fine" for violations of animal ordinances to match those imposed for other health-and-safety violations.
Staff recommends that the ordinance have an effective date of October 1, 2009, to coincide with the implementation of the new fee schedule.